Parc des Princes, Paris
April 02, 2013; 19:45 GMT
FC Barcelona will travel to the historic city of Paris as they prepare to face PSG at the Parc des Princes. Although most of the world’s attention will be at the high profile encounter between Juventus and Bayern Munich, this clash between the league leaders of La Liga and Ligue 1 is sure to serve up a great appetizer.
The last time these two sides met was back in the 1994-95 Champions League Quarter-final match when PSG pulled out a big upset by defeating Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona over two legs. Here they are once again, facing a Barcelona team, which many consider (at least under Guardiola era), to be one of the best footballing side the sport has ever seen.
PSG currently lead the Ligue 1 table and have a seven point lead over second placed Marseille. The French club has lost only two of their last 21 matches in all competitions. They are coming into the match on the back of a 1-0 victory over Marseille in the weekend. Carlo Ancelloti’s side progressed easily through the group stages and have lost only a game in the competition till now. In the last round of this competition, they faced Valencia and despite a scare in the second leg, they were competent enough to see things through and qualify. But on hindsight, they are yet to face a really tough opponent in the Champions League this season and Barcelona will prove to be the first real test of this team’s capabilities.
Barcelona, on the other hand, have drawn their match this weekend against Celta Vigo, although they are unlikely to lose any sleep over that result as the La Liga is nearly done and dusted. The Catalan club still holds a massive 13 point advantage of Real Madrid. The team was written off by many pundits after their loss to AC Milan in the first leg of the fixture in the last round of the Champions League, which were followed by two back-to-back defeats at the hands of Real Madrid in the League and the Copa del Rey. But the team showed its class once again as they decimated Milan in the second leg and turned around a 2-0 deficit with consummate ease. They seem to be back to their best and are currently playing a brand of football, which has made them so famous worldwide.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The big news for PSG is that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is available for this match after the French club were successful in their appeal to reduce the ban that was initially inflicted on him due to his red card against Valencia in the first leg. The other good news for Ancelotti is the Lucas Moura is back from his ankle injury along with Argentine star Ezequiel Lavezzi, who was rested last weekend in the match against Montpellier. Verratti who also missed out against Valencia will make a return to the squad, after serving his suspension.
This means PSG will have a full strength squad against Barcelona, except for Thiago Motta, who suffered from a groin injury during training. Carlo Ancelotti will start with his favoured 4-2-2-2 formation in the match. Zlatan will lead the line upfront with Lavezzi being his primary support. The former Napoli man will look to feed of Zlatan, who is excellent at holding up play and bringing others into action.
Pastore and Moura will be the two creative midfielders behind the front two and both of them have quite a different role in the side. While Moura is more direct in his approach and goes out wide at times, Pastore is the orchestrator in the midfield. Lucas Moura has been impressive in his short spell with PSG so far, and although he has a lot to improve, the Brazilian has shown why the French club spent so much money on bringing him to Paris.
PSG have enough ammunition at the top half of the pitch to cause trouble to the vulnerable Barcelona defence, but it is the performance of their back four and the two midfielders sitting in front of them, might decide the outcome of this fixture. Matuidi and Verratti will have a tough job in hand, but the duo have been impressive – especially Verratti, who is highly rated. But PSG’s best bet against stopping Messi will be Thiago Silva; the Brazilian on his day is one of the best defenders in the world currently and his clash against Messi will be brilliant for the neutrals to watch.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-2-2): Sirigu; Jallet, Silva, Alex, Maxwell; Verratti, Matuidi; Pastore, Moura; Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi.
When they said that everything was gone and Barcelona were on their way down, Leo and co. did what they do best. With one of the best comebacks in recent times, this team went on to prove that they still have it in them to reach the pinnacle. However, the international break did disrupt the rhythm and left the team with quite a few vital injuries. Xavi, in particular, has travelled with the squad after missing out on the match against Celta Vigo. And when a player as essential as him makes the cut, it’s more often than not that they start; needless to say that a player of his calibre will start at the Parc des Princes.
Alongside Xavi , the duo of Busquets and Iniesta too is expected to play important roles. Up front it has to be Lionel Messi, followed by two others. Going by Tello’s great performance, it certainly won’t harm the team to start with him. However, David Villa has been very impactful and played a big role in the comeback against AC Milan. Despite some loss in pace and a little lacklustre performance in this season’s Champions League, he still has what it takes to trouble even the best of defences in Europe, with his runs and positioning. It should eventually boil down to Alexis and Tello.
Pedro will miss because of suspension. Had he not been suspended, he’d still have missed because of an injury. Defence has been a perennial problem this season and the PSG offense is competent enough to capitalise on that. At the back, Alves and Alba should be on either flank. Puyol is still recovering from a knee injury and that leaves Mascherano and Pique at the centre. Although Abidal has made a miraculous recovery, he might not be ready yet to take on the likes of Ibrahimovic and Lavezzi. Adriano too will miss because of a hamstring injury.
Victor Valdes has a special place for Paris in his heart. He won his first Champions League there, after an exceptional performance against Arsenal. Recently, he played there against France and was exceptional to say the least. Despite the occasional gaffes, fans round the globe will wish and pray that the custodian brings his A-game to Paris, yet again. He might just play as essential role in avoiding some crucial goals.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Villa.
- The Catalan giants have won their last six Champions League quarter-finals and their last defeat at this stage came against Juventus in 2002-03.
- Barcelona have only won two of their last eight away matches in all competitions (W2, D3, L3).
- PSG have won the highest percentage (62.1%) of aerial duels among the teams that are still remaining in the competition.
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic has made the most number of assists (5) in this competition so far; one ahead of Xavi (4).
- Paris Saint-Germain are on a 23-match unbeaten home run in European competition stretching back to a 4-2 defeat against Hapoel Tel-Aviv in the Uefa Cup group stage in November 2006.
Player To Watch Out For
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG)
It is hard to look beyond this man as the player to watch out for in this match, considering his spicy relation with Barcelona. The 31-year-old will be desperate to prove himself against his old club. The Swedish maestro has been in amazing form this season and has scored 27 goals and made 11 assists in his 34 appearances for the club so far (all competition) – simply mind boggling numbers. This is the ideal opportunity for a club like PSG, who have an ambitious project at hand, to announce their arrival among the big boys and Zlatan will be at the forefront of their charge towards glory.
PSG 1-2 Barcelona
Barcelona are the favorites to win this, as they are against most of the sides they face, on paper, but they must be worried about problems that PSG’s attack might pose – specially with respect to their shaky defense. The French club will score in this match, but that might not be enough to hold off Barcelona, whose attack looks to be in brilliant form presently and the Catalan giants should win this tie, but not by a big margin.